Bhagat Singh, the Tradition of Martrydom and Hindutva

First published on: MARCH 23, 2016

March the 23rd (2016) is the 85th anniversary of the martyrdom of three of India’s great revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, who were hanged at Lahore for working to overthrow the colonial, ‘firangee’ government. The British government thought that with the physical elimination of these freedom fighters their ideas and dreams of a secular and egalitarian independent India would also dissipate and disappear. The rulers were patently wrong as these revolutionaries and heir ideals continue to be an integral part of the people’s memory, their exploits sung far and wide in people’s lore.

On this 85th anniversary of their martyrdom we should remember, and not overlook the fact, that though it was the British colonial powers who hanged them, there were at the time organisations like Hindu Mahasabha, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Muslim League in pre-1947 India which not only remained alien to the ideals of these revolutionaries but also maintained a criminal silence on their hanging.

It is both comic, ironical and shocking therefore that, of these three communal outfits, it is the RSS — which consciously kept itself completely aloof from the anti-colonial struggle –that has, of late, laid claim to the tradition and contributions of these great revolutionaries. Literature is being produced and the discourse too seeks to appropriate them with false a-historic linkages to Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev.

During the NDA I regime when its two senior swayamsewaks, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishan Advani ruled the country, they had made the astonishing claim that Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, founder of the RSS met Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev in 1925 and continued attending meetings with these revolutionaries and even provided shelter to Rajguru in 1927 when he was underground after killing Sanders.[i]

In 2007, for the first time in its history, the Hindi organ of the RSS, Panchjanya came out with a special issue on Bhagat Singh. In the whole body of pre-Partition literature of RSS we do not find even a single reference to these martyrs. In fact, RSS literature of the contemporaneous period, is full of anecdotes showing its indifference to revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh.

Madhukar Dattatreya Deoras, known as Balasahab Deoras, the third chief of the RSS, narrated an incident when Hedgewar saved him and others from following the path of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. Interestingly, this appeared in a publication of RSS itself:
“While studying in college (we) youth were generally attracted towards the ideals of revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh. Emulating Bhagat Singh we should do some or other act of bravery, this came to our mind often. We were less attracted towards Sangh (RSS) since current politics, revolution etc. that attracted the hearts of youth were generally less discussed in the Sangh. When Bhagat Singh and his companions were awarded death sentence, at that time our hearts were so excited that some friends together [we] vowed to do something directly and planned something terrible and in order to make it succeed decided to run away from homes. But to run away without informing our Doctorji [Hedgewar] will not be proper, considering it we decided to inform Doctorji about our decision. To inform this fact to Doctorji was assigned to me by the group of friends.

“We together went to Doctorji and with great courage I explained my feelings before him. After listening to our plan Doctorji took a meeting of ours for discarding this foolish plan and making us to realize the superiority of the work of Sangh. This meeting continued for seven days and in the night from ten to three. The brilliant ideas of Doctorji and his valuable leadership brought fundamental change in our ideas and ideals of life. Since that day we took leave of mindlessly made plans and our lives got new direction and our mind got stabilized in the work of Sangh.”[ii]

Moreover there is ample proof available in the documents of the RSS that establish that the RSS denounced movements led by revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekar Azad and their associates. There are passages in theBunch of Thoughts [collection of speeches and writings of Golwalkar treated as a holy book by the RSS cadres] decrying the whole tradition of martyrs:
“There is no doubt that such men who embrace martyrdom are great heroes and their philosophy too is pre-eminently manly. They are far above the average men who meekly submit to fate and remain in fear and inaction. All the same, such persons are not held up as ideals in our society. We have not looked upon their martyrdom as the highest point of greatness to which men should aspire. For, after all, they failed in achieving their ideal, and failure implies some fatal flaw in them.”[iii]
Golwalkar goes on to tell the RSS cadres that only those people should be adored who have been successful in their lives:
“It is obvious that those who were failures in life must have had some serious drawback in them. How can one, who is defeated, give light and lead others to success?”[iv]

In the whole body of pre-Partition literature of RSS we do not find even a single reference to these martyrs. In fact, RSS literature of the contemporaneous period, is full of anecdotes showing its indifference to revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh.

In fact, Golwalkar’s book has a chapter titled ‘Worshippers of Victory’ in which he openly commits to the fact that he and RSS worship only those who are victorious.
“Let us now see what type of great lives have been worshipped in this land. Have we ever idealised those who were a failure in achieving life’s goal? No, never. Our tradition has taught us to adore and worship only those who have proved fully successful in their life-mission. A slave of circumstances has never been our ideal. The hero who becomes the master of the situation, changes it by sheer dint of his calibre[sic] and character and wholly succeeds in achieving his life’s aspirations, has been our ideal. It is such great souls, who by their self-effulgence, lit up the dismal darkness surrounding all round, inspired confidence in frustrated hearts, breathed life into the near-dead and held aloft the living vision of success and inspiration, that our culture commands us to worship.”[v]

Golwalkar did not name Bhagat Singh but according to his philosophy of life since Bhagat Singh and his companions did not succeed in achieving their goal they did not deserve any respect. According to his formula the British rulers would and should be the natural object of worship as they were able to kill revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh.

It is difficult to find a statement more insulting and denigrating to the martyrs of the Indian Freedom Movement than this.

It will be shocking for any Indian who loves and respects the martyrs of the Freedom Movement to know what Dr. Hedgewar and the RSS felt about the revolutionaries fighting against the British. According to his biography published by the RSS, “Patriotism is not only going to prison. It is not correct to be carried away by such superficial patriotism. He used to urge that while remaining prepared to die for the country when the time came, it is very necessary to have a desire to live while organizing for the freedom of the country.”[vi]

‘Shameful’ is too mild a word to describe the attitude of the RSS towards these young freedom fighters, who had sacrificed their all in the struggle against the British colonial powers. The last Mughal ruler of India, Bahadurshah Zafar, had emerged as the rallying point and symbol of the Great War of Independence of 1857. Golwalkar while making fun of him said:
“In 1857, the so-called last emperor of India had given the clarion call—Ghazio mein bu rahegi jub talak eeman ki/Takhte London tak chalegi tegh Hindustan ki (As long as there remains the least trace of love of faith in the hearts of our heroes, so long, the sword of Hindustan will reach the throne of London.) But ultimately what happened? Everybody knows that.”[vii]

What Golwalkar thought of the people sacrificing their lot for the country is obvious from the following statement as well. He had the temerity to ask the great revolutionaries who wished to lay down their lives for the freedom of the motherland the following question (as if he was representing the British masters):
“But one should think whether complete national interest is accomplished by that? Sacrifice does not lead to increase in the thinking of the society of giving all for the interest of the nation. It is borne by the experience up to now that this fire in the heart is unbearable to the common people.”[viii]

Perhaps this was the reason that RSS produced no freedom fighter, not to mention no martyr in the movement against the colonial rule. Unfortunately, there is not a single line challenging, exposing, criticising or confronting the inhuman rule of the British masters in the entire literature of the RSS from 1925 to 1947. Those who are familiar with the glorious Freedom Struggle of India and sacrifices of martyrs like Bhagat Singh must challenge this evil appropriation of our heroes by the Hindutva camp which betrayed the liberation struggle. We should not allow these communal stooges of the British rulers to kill Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev once again.

(The author taught political science at the University of Delhi. He is a well known writer and columnist)


[i]Rakesh Sinha, Dr. Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, Publications Division, Ministry Of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, Delhi, 2003.p. 160.
[ii]H. V. Pingle (ed.), Smritikan-Param Pujiye Dr. Hedgewar Ke Jeewan Kee Vibhin Gahtnaon Ka Sankalan, (In Hindi a collection of memoirs of persons close to Hedgewar), RSS Prakashan Vibhag, Nagpur, 1962, pp. 47-48.
[iii]M. S. Golwalkar, Bunch Of Thoughts, Sahitya Sindhu, Bangalore, 1996, p. 283.
[iv]Ibid, p. 282.
[vi]C. P. Bhishikar, Sangh-Viraksh ke Beej: Dr. Keshavvrao Hedgewar, Suruchi Prakashan, Delhi, 1994. p. 21.
[vii]M. S. Golwalkar, Shri Guruji Samagr Darshan, (Collected works of Golwalkar in Hindi) Vol. 1, Bhartiya Vichar Sadhna, Nagpur, 1981, p. 121.
[viii]Ibid, pp. 61-62.



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